A monthly blog about the sensory experience of New York City

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

MULTISENSORY: Celsious luxury laundromat

“What’s a modern laundromat?” a girl asks her friend as they stop before a slick new Williamsburg storefront. Outside, tulips peek out from behind millennial-pink railings. Inside, palo santo incense wafts over a display of raw chocolate and facial mist, hip-hop thrums faintly, scrolls of soft hand towels rest above a sink, live plants dangle their tendrils over reclaimed-cork walls, and a sign advertises today’s special: bone broth. 

In the doorway stands Theresa, co-owner with her sister, Corinna, of Celsious, a self-described “modern, sustainable, and luxurious” laundromat that is reimagining the way New Yorkers do their laundry—or at least aspire to do it.

Laundromats are an essential but demoralizing fixture in most New Yorkers’ daily lives. As the Snorri Bros. observe in their photo book about laundromats across the five boroughs, public laundries are one of the few industries that have held out against chain takeover, and their mom-and-pop signage is a ubiquitous feature of the streetscape. They also function as social and sartorial melting pots, where strangers of all backgrounds engage tube-sock-to-negligee in one of our most intimate chores.

Photo of Nice Laundry at 332-2 Hooper Street in Brooklyn from Laundromat by Snorri Bros. (PowerHouse Books, 2013)
Celsious, on the other hand, is the antithesis of the typical Launderama—it’s a laundromat revolution.

The high-powered, energy-efficient Electrolux appliances have you in and out within thirty minutes, for one. And though you can feed quarters into slots the old-fashioned way, these machines take credit cards and Apple Pay.

But a thirty-minute cycle is hardly enough time to enjoy a locally sourced turmeric latté in the Clean Café upstairs, take advantage of the WiFi on the back patio, or peruse the events listings (talks on “Design, Policy, and Progress” and organic skin care) while waiting for your machine to text you when your cycle is done.

Ethereal and soft-spoken “laundry gurus” pad about in canvas aprons, proffering lavender-infused wool dryer balls ($1 to rent), glass jars of three-ingredient eco-detergent (complimentary), and washing advice (key lesson: cram in the clothes for optimal friction). When you thank them, they don’t say “You’re welcome” but murmur “Of course.” (There is a tip jar.)

One load of washing and drying at Celsious costs between seven and nineteen dollars, depending on the setting—considerably more than your local Stop ’n’ Wash. There are cycles for wool, down, and even one called “active” (“for when you have your whole load of Lululemons,” I was told, which speaks to the clientele). You can even sanitize the basins before loading your clothes, obliterating the previous occupants’ cooties and any chance of having to pluck out a stranger’s damp underpants.

Walk into Celsious on a Saturday afternoon, however, and one thing is conspicuously absent: customers. During my two visits, empty carts and silent machines gleamed beneath the globe lights. Despite their obligatory blue IKEA bags, these were not your typical laundromat patrons: all were stylishly dressed, and most appeared to be European, or tourists, or both. I was, admittedly, a tourist myself: I am lucky enough to have my own washer-dryer but had come to Celsious for the experience.

But at least I had brought laundry. At least once every five minutes, a passerby would peer in the window, or step in to ask, “What is this place?,” to which one of the sisters would patiently explain, “It’s a laundromat! But our dryers are the best on the market—they save gas, electricity, and water—so you can get your clothes washed and dried in thirty minutes.” The voyeurs would reply, “Cool! We’ll have to stop by with some laundry!” and exit into the afternoon.

Despite the vision of customers folding their clothes in the sun on the reclaimed-stone tables out back, or sipping the foam off a latté while treating their clothes to DIY pampering, perhaps New Yorkers—with all their other aspirations—just don’t have time for this one, and it’s their loss. You can, after all, drop off your laundry for bespoke garment care, and rest assured knowing your clothes are being treated to the “thoughtful folding” that’s part of the Celsious promise.